“Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.”
The greeting above comes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We don’t know much about the people he mentions but we do know they were with him. And this is significant. In nearly all of his letters, Paul references someone who accompanies him on his journeys, supporting him in his work. He gives thanks, by name, for individuals in congregations. He expresses gratitude for their support, for their efforts on behalf of the Gospel.
Nowadays, if a pastor were to write letters to congregations and single out people by name, I can imagine some of the responses; ‘What about the others? isn’t everyone important? You don’t want to hurt their feelings or diminish their self-esteem, do you?’ In over 30 years of pastoral ministry, when I think back on the people I have served, I don’t remember them all. But I do remember many of those, by name, who actively served with me in ministry.
The life of any congregation is made up of the participation, commitment, involvement of persons. The first few generations of Christian people did not have church buildings, constitutions and bylaws, business plans, or programs. They had each other. And their communities were not centered around their perceived needs, comfortable worship schedules or a salad bar of programs and activities. They were centered around the new life in the Spirit that had taken hold of them in Jesus Christ as they heard the message of the cross and resurrection. Against pressures from their families, society at large and often at great personal risk, they gathered together in joy and gratitude for worship, witness, learning and service.
The institutional character of today’s church can obscure something important. At it’s heart the church is a community of persons in relationship; in relationship to Christ through Word and sacrament, in relationship to one another through faith, hope and love, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s mentioning of people by name was certainly not meant to slight others. But in mentioning them he reminds us of our relatedness in Christ and how important it is to love and support one another.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”